The Long Road For Peregrine 568

WARNING! Some of the photos in this entry deal with a bird injury and some surgical techniques to heal that injury. If you are eating a meal or are kind of squeamish, you may want to stop reading this entry after the third photo. Just an FYI.

After the Holidays and my travel schedule, it was time to get back to my volunteering at The Raptor Center and an update on our favorite peregrine.

They were busy in the clinic and while I was waiting, I checked out some of the other birds the vets were working on. This was a falconry bird that got injured in the field. This peregrine falcon was out hunting and she got into a thermal and was soaring high. An adult red-tailed hawk tried to soar into the same thermal. The peregrine looked down, saw the red-tail and stooped! The falcon dove down and hit the red-tail, locked onto it and the falconer watched the birds disappear out of the sky. It took him fifteen minutes to track them down and he found both the red-tail and the peregrine on the ground (and a couple of prairie falcons nearby). The red-tail flew off when the falconer walked up, but there were puncture wounds on the peregrine's face--indicating that she had been footed in the head by the red-tail. Fortunately, the falcon did not lose an eye, but her face did swell up. She appears to be healing well and remarkably did not suffer any broken bones.

Check it out, another way to use that handy tool known as the Dremel--trimming beaks. Above, a vet trims the beak of a young Cooper's hawk. As birds are recovering at TRC, they don't always rub their beaks well like they do in the wild and they can get kind of long, so the vets have to trim them--this is called coping a beak. It's better for the bird and a little easier on the vets when they get bitten by a bird.

So, while I was in Atlanta at Bird Watch America, I got a call from Dr. Julia Ponder the Associate Director of TRC. I knew that there was only one reason for the call--something was up with Peregrine 568. She is still alive, but had to have some surgery. It turned out that her leg healed improperly, causing some long term foot problems. It's at this point that the photos might get a little gross for some people.

Even thought the fracture was healed, the vets noticed that the falcon kept getting bumblefoot on both feet (that's some cleaned up bumblefoot in the above photo). They did some checking and it turned out that when the broken leg healed, that it was a little bit shorter than the other leg. Peregrine falcons are designed for extreme precision, this a bird that can dive over 200 miles per hour and needs everything perfect when hunting prey at that speed. The shorter leg was also affecting how she was perching and aggravating the bumblefoot. So, Dr. Ponder said that they had two options: 1. Put the bird down or 2. Try an experimental surgery that has been tried successfully on a parrot: fracture the leg again and as it's healing, periodically separate the bone, forcing length. Perhaps you have heard of limb lengthening surgery? It's like that.

They did the surgery last week and Dr. Ponder said that if something went wrong they would know right away. They did the surgery and it went well. Now came the hard part of lengthening the fracture once a day of 0.7mm. Since this is painful, Peregrine 568 is put under anesthesia (That's Dr. Mitch putting the falcon under while a clinic volunteer holds the falcon in the above photo).

Here's the fixator on the outside of her leg--she's got some bruising (notice the green, birds bruise green). I'm not sure if you would call her a cybird or frankenbird, but she's got some heavy duty metal works attached to her leg.

Here's what it looks like in the X-Rays. Check out the toes--they are wrapped in duct tape, but it kind of looks like eggs.

Here is an X-Ray that was taken not long after all the apparatus were put in last week.

I think this one was taken yesterday, so you can see that there is a tiny bit more space between the fracture.

So, here's Dr. Mitch doing the extension--although the official surgical term is called "distraction." They kept talking about doing the distraction all morning. I wonder what the origin of that is? Let's distract the bone into growing longer?

After the distraction and all of her bumblefoot areas were cleaned she was wrapped up. They put padding on both feet and seal that with duct tape to help with the bumblefoot. Then they have to clean and put padding around the fixator and then wrap it with duct tape--I swear, they used half a role on this bird. So, now we have to see how that fracture heals. If that heals well, she will need further surgery to correct some of the bumblefoot issues.

Miles to go before she flies. Some may ask, why go this far for one bird. Number one, thanks to the blog--lots of people know about Peregrine 568 and have a vested interest in what happens. Number 2, what we learn from this experimental surgery in birds could help someone's beloved pet in the future. Number 3, she's a young bird with several years of survival ahead of her.

So, not the best news, but not totally crap news either.